Forgot your password?

Undressed A Brief History of Underwear at Victoria and Albert Museum

By Edited Apr 17, 2016 3 1

London's Victoria and Albert Museum presents Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. This major exhibition highlights the sexual and sensual appeal of every type of undergarment while looking at the practicalities of underwear. 

Who were the entrepreneurs, the inventors and the innovators? What were the technical advances that allowed such invention and innovation and led to the success of the entrepreneurs? When did underwear change from being an important item for health and hygiene to a body enhancing necessity? How does cut, fit, fabric and decoration reveal issues of gender, sex and morality? What is the erotic role of underwear? When did undergarments become over garments worn to exhilarate and excite? What is the relationship between underwear and fashion? This exhibition answers these questions and much more.  

Underwear: Fashion in Detail
Amazon Price: $39.95 $22.42 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 17, 2016)

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear - the Highlights


More than two hundred items are on display,

French-style Hooped Petticoat
including corsets, crinolines, bustles, boxer shorts, bras, hosiery, garters, lingerie and lounge wear together with fashion plates, photographs, packaging and advertisements.

 The exhibition features items by designers such as Calvin Klein, John Galliano, Cadolle, Fifi Chachnil, Agent Provocateur, aussieBum, Brynje, Elsa Schiaparelli, Stella McCartney, La Perla, Rigby & Peller, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Poiret and many others. 

Corset by Mr Pearl for Dita Von Teese
The item that most interested me is a corset by Mr Pearl, designed for burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese. The Swarovski crystal-embellished corset is part of a sparkling yellow gown, also by Mr Pearl. Von Teese calls it “The Canary”. Mr Pearl describes the process of creating a corset as “an intimate collaboration between maker and wearer. The couture corset maker understands the body's anatomy and has the flexibility and empathy to realise each client's special requirements.”[1] 

Body stocking by Mary Quant

For me, other highlights are drawers believed to have been worn by Queen Victoria's mother, a French-style hooped petticoat, 18th century 'stays' for a working woman, and a 1960s' body stocking by Mary Quant mainly because I remember wearing just such a garment.  

Amazon Price: $16.66 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 17, 2016)

The Corset Controversy

Corset with Extremely Tight Lacing
Undressed explores some of the controversies surrounding corsets and tight lacing. It was fashionable in the 1890s to have a very slender waist with full hips and bust. When fully laced this corset measures just 48 centimetres whereas our modern-day size 12 measures 71 centimetres. 

This whalebone and cotton corset dating from the 1890s,with a waist under 19 inches in circumference, is shown together with x-rays and illustrations showing how such highly restrictive garments impacted on the body. In the 19th and early 20th century doctors blamed many ailments on tight corsets.

These x-rays of a live model show how corset wearing changes the position of the ribs and restricts the movement of the diaphragm. Undressed also shows how corsets were also recommended to improve medical conditions and posture.


Developing the Bra

Question: What did the top hat say to the bra? Answer: You go on ahead and I'll give these two a lift. We might laugh at that old joke but Undressed takes the issue very seriously exploring the development of the bra throughout the 20th century. The exhibition features some very striking advertisements for latex corsetry by 1930s brand Chamaux, a 1950s Playtex rubber girdle and Spanx designs from 2010.

Silk Slip by Carine Gilson

Alluring, Playful, Seductive  

Undressed shows how corsetry and lingerie are designed to be seductive, playful and alluring through items such as this silk slip by Carine Gilson. The display is accompanied by a 2 minute film of the slip being made in Gilson's atelier.


Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Undressed, sponsored by Agent Provocateur and Revlon, is curated by Edwina Uhrman, curator of Textiles and Fashion at the V&A. The exhibition runs from 16th April 2016 to 12th March 2017 and tickets and further information are available from the museum.

The History of Underclothes (Dover Fashion and Costumes)
Amazon Price: $12.95 $6.70 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 17, 2016)

Getting to the Victoria and Albert Museum

Get Directions
Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London, UK


May 18, 2016 9:16am
Good one, Fran. Thumbin' and sharing in a few places.
Add a new comment - No HTML
You must be logged in and verified to post a comment. Please log in or sign up to comment.


  1. Victoria and Albert Museum Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. London, Exhibition: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016.

Explore InfoBarrel

Auto Business & Money Entertainment Environment Health History Home & Garden InfoBarrel University Lifestyle Sports Technology Travel & Places
© Copyright 2008 - 2016 by Hinzie Media Inc. Terms of Service Privacy Policy XML Sitemap

Follow IB Travel & Places